RAPC to oversee Avoyelles Parish building code program

Faced with the prospect of “shutting down” the parish building permit process, the Avoyelles Parish Police Jury met in special session to appoint the Rapides Area Planning Commission (RAPC) to serve as the parish’s “building official.”

State law requires the parish to comply with statewide building codes and to have a “certified building official” to monitor its building permit program.

The Police Jury’s previous building official, Parish Inspec-tions of Lafayette, gave notice a few months ago that as of Sept. 1 it would no longer be able to provide that service without either a monthly $2,500 payment or being declared the parish’s sole provider for inspections.

The company had reportedly agreed to continue as building official temporarily while the Police Jury finds a replacement. That appreciated courtesy is apparently no longer needed.

The Police Jury approved RAPC’s contract at a special meeting on Aug. 27. However, District Attorney Charles Riddle asked to review the 1 1/2 page document before it was put into effect. As of late this week, the Police Jury had not received any notice of a snag with the agreement. At the Aug. 27 meeting, RAPC’s Executive Director Matt Johns and Building Official Blake Steiner told jurors the Alexandria-based government non-profit would be able to provide the service to the parish.

A potential sticking point in their proposal was the requirement that they be allowed to conduct -- and be paid for -- inspections even if the owner chooses a third-party inspector.

PAY ONE OR PAY TWO

In short, contractors would have the choice of paying for one inspection or for two.

There were concerns expressed about how that would harm the third-party inspectors and deprive property owners of their right to select an inspector.

Jurors pointed out that RAPC’s “follow-behind inspection” requirement was basically the same as Parish Inspection’s demand to be the sole provider. When told they can pay their choice of inspector but will also have to pay the parish’s inspector, most contractors will choose to pay only one. Since RAPC’s opinion would be the one that counts, it would make the independent inspector unnecessary and redundant.

Police Jury President Charles Jones told his colleagues the bottom line is that unless the parish hires a building official “you could have 100 third-party providers and it wouldn’t matter, because we are done. We cannot issue a permit. That’s it.”

After Jones’ “bottom line” clarification of the issue, the jurors adopted the provisional approval to contract with RAPC to be the parish’s building official.

Johns conceded that one reason for requiring the parish pay RAPC for the inspection is to ensure it is financially feasible to take on the parish as a client.

Another is the fact that RAPC has caught too many contractors in other parishes cutting corners who were allowed to do so by third-party inspectors.

“One of our inspectors in another parish conducted a reinspection for electrical wiring that had been approved by the third-party inspector,” Johns said. “He found the wire still on the spool.

“The other inspector just stamped ‘approved’ because he knew the contractor.”

Johns said without the incentive to use the RAPC inspector, the agency could end up being left to handle the minor inspections -- such as mobile homes -- which cost more for RAPC to do than they get paid to do them.

“We would do those inspections because we make it up in the bigger projects,” he added. However, if RAPC was only doing the money-losing small jobs, it would be unable to continue serving as the building official for the parish.

LEGALLY LIABLE

Johns said the building official is legally liable -- and carries significant insurance as a result -- for ensuring the state building codes are followed. The building official must sign off on the third-party inspector’s findings, which gives RAPC a vested interest in ensuring the inspection is thorough and correct.

Steiner, who would conduct the Avoyelles inspections, said RAPC does not want to give people a hard time with the inspections and permit process. However, he said, his inspections will be done right and will follow the law.

He also told jurors he will personally address any complaint calls they may receive as a result of his inspections and will make sure each juror has his cell phone number.

As a compromise, Johns said that instead of requiring a follow-behind inspection for every inspection by a third-party inspector, RAPC would agree to a “sample” program whereby the agency would only follow-up on one of every three inspections on a project. He said the “sample” approach helps to protect the building official to some extent, but there can be problems if one of those follow-behind inspections turns up some discrepancies that indicate the project does not comply with state building codes.

OPTIONS LIMITED

Jones noted that the Police Jury’s options are limited. The individual or company serving as the building official must be certified by the state as a building inspector.

There are a few in this area who serve as third-party inspectors. Jones said at least two of those have been contacted.

One, Rene Borrel of Marksville, is apparently ineligible to contract with the Police Jury because his brother, Mark Borrel, is a juror.

Another, Jim Guillory of Mansura, declined to consider the job as the overall building official, although he does conduct third-party inspections in the parish.

Rene Borrel is the building official for Marksville, Bunkie and Moreauville. Guillory is the building official for Mansura. All other municipalities use the parish permit program and building official.

Jones said there may be one other certified building inspector in Avoyelles Parish and three in neighboring parishes who do some inspections in the parish.

Johns told the jurors that the 1 1/2-page agreement is one of the simplest they are likely to ever receive.

The jury can end the agreement at any time if they are not satisfied with RAPC’s performance or the terms of the agreement cause any problems.

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